South Charlotte

Past, present coaches share love of the game

Kevin Daly retired from coaching Country Day boys' basketball in 1999 after 11 years as the varsity coach.

He tried to stay away from the team, took a position as an eighth-grade student coordinator at the middle school and said he went to only two or three games the first year away from coaching.

Now, Dwayne Cherry is bringing him back to the game. The new coach at Country Day played for Daly in the early '90s and graduated in 1993. Now, in his first head coaching job, Cherry relies on Daly as a mentor.

"Even now, to this day, even though I don't play for him, I still call him," said Cherry, 35. "I have questions. I invite him to practice. He's still a big resource for me now."

Cherry played football and basketball at Country Day. He was named all-state after his senior football season and went on to play at Guilford College. On the basketball team, he was more of a role player. He was a part-time starter his senior year. Even though his basketball career ended after high school, he was still drawn to the court.

"I probably didn't have enough talent to play college ball, but it was always my first love," said Cherry. "Once I finished my playing career with football, I knew once I got into coaching it was going to be basketball over football because that's what my passion was."

Daly, 57, took a similar path to coaching. He was a goalkeeper for the University of Rhode Island soccer team but always enjoyed basketball more. He missed his final soccer game because he hurt his ankle playing in a pickup basketball game, something soccer players weren't allowed to do.

"We're similar in that way," said Daly. "I wasn't talented enough either to play at the college level, but I was good enough to play soccer. I played it, but it wasn't my first love."

Cherry started coaching AAU basketball in 2005. Three years later, he coached at J.T. Williams Middle School for three years before becoming a varsity assistant and head junior varsity coach at Independence last year, where he expected to stay for several years to "pay his dues" before getting a head coaching job.

When the Country Day job opened up before this year, Cherry wasn't sure he should apply. It would be a national search and he didn't have a strong coaching resume. He called Daly, who convinced him to give it a shot.

Daly had tried twice before to get Cherry to Country Day to work with the middle school athletic programs, but it never came through.

"There was a lot of excitement when Dwayne got the job," said Daly, adding that alumni and former players e-mailed and called him excited about the news. Daly said Cherry has shown a mental toughness since he was a player that's carried into his coaching.

For Cherry, returning to his alma mater as a coach and upper school math teacher has been strange at times.

"It was kind of weird at first because so many of the teachers ... that I had are still here teaching, so, you know, you're sitting in the same workshops as them and you were their student and it feels like just a few years ago," he said. "I'm having fun. It's good being back and I think that I know so many people here it's really helped me with the transition. It hasn't made it difficult at all."

Daly has been the biggest resource for Cherry. They talk almost ever day, even if it's just a few text messages. Cherry invites Daly to practice and encourages him to step in when he sees something. He even runs practice the same way Daly did, with every minute planned, the schedule printed out and given to all the coaches.

"He was really my first basketball coach," said Cherry. "A lot of what I do with coaching, a lot of my knowledge of the game, has come from coach Daly."

Daly said he enjoys being around the program but is careful not to overstep his authority. Sometimes sitting behind the bench, he said, he wants to point something out but holds back.

"It's real hard for me not to say it's time to switch defenses now and to do this now. I've been pretty good," said Daly. "I want to make sure people don't see me ... being the puppeteer. I think it would undermine (Cherry's) authority.

"It's really important that those kids know that he's the coach. It's his program. Coach Daly had his time."

Having Daly around has helped Cherry feel comfortable in his first varsity head coaching job. "I think it just gives me a lot more confidence, knowing that he's here and so I'm not afraid or timid to go into any situation," Cherry said.

Cherry said his goal is to return Country Day to the level it was when he was playing, when the team won more than 20 games and finished second in the state his senior season. While last year's team finished 5-19, the Bucs are now 7-11, with four losses coming by fewer than six points.

Much of the struggle this year has come due to the success of the football team, which won a state title in fall. Eight of the top 10 basketball players are football players who joined late. Two of the top players - seniors Wake Hamilton, who recently scored his 1,000th point, and Morgan Roberts, committed to play football at Clemson - have missed games due to recruiting trips.

"I'm very optimistic about this team," said Cherry. "I feel like as we continue to play together ... we're going to be a dangerous team, because we really haven't reached our potential yet."

However the season goes, Cherry knows he can always go to Daly. "I know he has the experience, he's been through the battles, so I know that I can just call him and say, 'What do you think we should do in this situation?'" he said. "It gives me more confidence as a young coach."